The website of Crain’s Chicago business just posted my guest blog. Check it out.
A brand only exists to the extent that it exists in the minds of others as a bundle of impressions, associations and predispositions. And within the mind, a brand exists along three continua: duration, intensity of emotion and positivity/negativity of emotion. These are all variables related to the lifespan of a brand, and every brand has some ability to control these variables, and thus control its lifespan.
At this point, brand immortality is still a theoretical concept, because brands per se haven’t really been around long enough to test the concept’s validity. Nevertheless, positing brand immortality as a goal, albeit a perhaps unattainable, idealized goal, seems like a useful thing to do. It is helpful in thinking about how to ensure your brand’s longevity.
If your brand represents a product or service that meets a genuine need or desire, I’d call that a necessary but not sufficient condition for achieving or even aspiring to brand immortality. Beyond that, there are any number of factors that contribute to or diminish a brand’s strength and longevity, i.e., the quality and value of the product or service, the quality of customer service, how effectively public relations are managed, the power of the marketing and advertising, etc.
One variable within the marketing/advertising arena that is often undervalued when assessing contributions to a brand’s longevity is the tagline. Obviously, absent the other factors mentioned above, a tagline can have little or no impact on longevity. But, given a healthy brand, a good tagline does a remarkable amount of work in contributing to both the duration and positive emotion connected to that brand. Just consider how long a handful of words can, by itself, keep a brand alive in our minds. There are brands that no longer exist, yet their taglines live on. Jays Potato Chips. Can’t stop eatin’ em. This is not your father’s Oldsmobile. Sugar Pops are Tops. Zenith. The Quality Goes In Before The Name Goes On. And on and on.
When mentioning many brands, the first thing that pops into your mind is, yes, the tagline. Fill in the tagline:
Bounty paper towels. The _____ _____ _____.
GE. We ____ ___ ____ __ ___.
There’s _____ ____ ___ Jell-O.
Morton Salt. ____ __ _____, __ ____.
____ _ ____ ______, State Farm __ ____.
We could do this all day. What other factor, variable, component or element of a brand has that kind of focused, persistent staying power?
The fact is, if a brand can ever be deemed immortal, the chances are that what will be immortal about it is just one thing. The tagline.
I believe the Chicago office of Hoffman/York is responsible for a new ad campaign sort of rebranding Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Frankly, I’m disappointed in Hoffman/York, whose work is generally quite good. My concern, naturally, is the tagline:
How will we transform you?
In the context of the TV spot I saw, which is about how the museum is transforming itself, this line flows naturally from the overall message of transformation. So the tagline works as far as being “on message”.
Unfortunately, there are two flaws in the line that undermine the message.
First, this is yet another example of a tagline in the form of a question, which is, almost always, a copout. Rather than making a promise, or a statement about the brand’s “differessence”, or about their audience or the experience—in other words, rather than asserting something—they leave the question open, presumably compelling the viewer of the spot to fill in the blank.
But this device just doesn’t work. The viewer doesn’t then wonder how going to the museum will in fact transform them. It isn’t actually intriguing, as is the intent. This lack of intrigue stems from two sources. First, we have not been given sufficient hints or guidance to be able to even guess how it would transform us, or what being transformed would entail.
The more damaging problem, however, is this word “transform”. It might be argued that, if the museum’s makeover is HUGE, you could plausibly use the verb “transform” to describe the magnitude of the museum’s change.
On the other hand, it is just silly to imply that many/most/all visitors will be transformed by a visit to this museum. Whatever transformation consists of, it is surely a really, really big deal. I would contend that it is rare for anyone to be truly transformed by any museum experience. You might be impressed, enthralled, fascinated, even awed by the experience, but transformed?
If a young child were first exposed to physics at an interactive exhibit at the museum, and at that moment had an epiphany, leading him down a new path that resulted in his becoming a physicist, that would indeed be transformative. And I imagine that might happen once in a great while. But for the vast majority of visitors, nothing like that kind of transformation occurs.
So “transform” overstates the experience. My issue with this is that it is not an OBVIOUS overstatement. It isn’t really hyperbole or puffery, because it isn’t sufficiently overstated that it couldn’t be taken seriously. (Good luck deciphering that last sentence.) From the overall tone of the advertising, it seems that the museum is being sincere in promising a transformative experience. And it may well be that the client is sufficiently taken with the museum’s transformation that they actually think the experience is now transformative, but this merely demonstrates how easily clients can be self-deluded when they get caught up in their own wishful thinking.
This tagline falls into the category of overpromise. And it’s a sneaky overpromise because the overpromise is implied by the question. The question doesn’t ask whether you will be transformed, but, rather, how you will be transformed, implying that everyone will be transformed.
Every time one of these overpromising taglines occurs, it tends to weaken, undermine, the credibility of all other persuasive communications out there. It becomes one more re-inforcement of the commonly held impression that advertising is full of crap and is not to be believed or even paid attention to.
It’s the same problem that Chicago’s Loyola University bumps up against with its tagline, Where Extraordinary Lives Begin. I’m sure the client would like to believe this is true, but to make it true, they would need to modify the line to read Where, Very Rarely, An Extraordinary Life Begins.
Please, everybody, stop with the overpromises.
[This is the first of four articles/posts of mine that appeared on TheMarketinSpot.blogspot.com leading up to the webinar that Jay Ehret and I co-hosted a few weeks ago. I will post the other three soon.]
According To Wikipedia:
“A logo is a graphical element (ideogram, symbol, emblem, icon, sign) that, together with its logotype (a uniquely set and arranged typeface) form a trademark or commercial brand. Typically, a logo’s design is for immediate recognition. The logo is one aspect of a company’s commercial brand, or economic or academic entity, and its shapes, colors, fonts, and images usually are different from others in a similar market. Logos are also used to identify organizations and other non-commercial entities.”
Your logo is a necessary component in the carefully orchestrated amalgam that makes up your brand. But, while the logo conveys the name of your brand, and conveys, in a non-verbal way, some sense of what your brand stands for, you have an opportunity to convey so much more about your brand by providing a little yang for the yin that is your logo. That opportunity is called a tagline, and the addition of a tagline—a GOOD tagline—wherever your logo appears, gives your brand a handle—a brief articulation of your brand that helps people not just recognize it, but grasp what your brand is about. A logo is something to be recognized and felt. A tagline is something to be understood and felt. Optimal use of every brand exposure requires both.
Let me be clear that I’m speaking here of the brand as an outward flowing, ongoing series of communications intended to create or enforce impressions, associations and predispositions toward your company’s product or service. These communications should be designed around and driven by the brand’s differessence—that essential differentiator, whatever it may be, that distinguishes your brand from those of your competitors. There is another sense of the term “brand”, one we too often forget, in which your brand doesn’t consist of that outward flow, but rather, of the totality of impressions, associations and predispositions residing in the minds of anyone who is aware of your brand. Some of these are based on the messages and images you put out there. Others are based on direct or indirect experiences of the brand. The more you can do to intentionally and positively affect that totality, the stronger and more positive your brand will be.
If you can establish one central set of words—a tagline—that not only triggers those impressions, associations and predispositions, as the logo does, but also helps reinforce and interpret the brand in a positive light, this advantage will put you way ahead of your competitors who fail to do this. And that is probably most of them. In this way, a good tagline functions not only as a brand handle, but also as competitive edge.
Here’s another way to think about your brand and your tagline. Your brand isn’t simply a logo, obviously. In reality, your brand is a success story driven by your differessence. Your tagline can provide a glimpse into that success story—and your brand’s differessence—every time your logo appears. Seen in this light, it becomes clear how central and indispensable a good tagline is to your brand. Why would you not take advantage of such a simple, tangible opportunity to strengthen your brand?
My plan was to focus on the taglines of the commercials during the Super Bowl, so I could provide you with a slightly different slant on the inevitable commercial critiques that no doubt are being written at this moment by hundeds? thousands? millions? of would-be ad critics.
Unfortunately, between the stultifying dullness of many of the spots and the mind-numbing stupidity of the rest of them (oh, and there were a half dozen that didn’t rise to the level of boring or stupid because they were incomprehensible), I fell into a catatonic stupor from which I’m only now recovering.
Jay Ehret, he of TheMarketingSpot.com, recently invited me to co-host an hour-long webinar on refreshing your brand for 2010. It was fun, and I learned some stuff.
We recorded the webinar, so now you can soak it up at .
Preceding that webinar, we posted a series of articles (four by Jay, four by me) that laid some groundwork. Those can be found at TheMarketingSpot.com.
For those of you who are tool lazy to check out the four articles I wrote for Jay’s site, I will post them here soon. Sheesh. The things I do for you guys.